Asifa Bano was raped, sedated and murdered in cold blood in Jammu, India. The motive? Her killers wanted to “teach a lesson to the nomadic Muslim community and drive them away”. Some people even came out in support of the perpetrators of this heinous crime.
Please share if this moved your heart even a little bit. Great battles are won by moving hearts.
It was a Sunday afternoon. The clear sunny skies looked inviting from my kitchen window. The last week had been an unending series of grey days under a thick cloud cover that hung high in the sky, caging people indoors longer than they’d like. There had not been even a rift in the clouds from which the sun could mollify the unusual chill that enveloped Wrocław for this time of the year. So, when the sun disrupted the state of affairs that Sunday, it was a disruption much anticipated, much more welcomed. Not letting post lunch laziness get the better of me, I brewed coffee and headed out to make some Vitamin D.
As with most people in India, seasons for me are largely summer, monsoon and winter. I never quite understood all the excitement about spring and fall anyway (are they even real seasons!?), except that they formed really pretty backdrops in movies and literature. So, that Sunday afternoon, as I turned round the corner of our cobbled street, I was to witness an important part of the European culture: the changing of the seasons.
The first thing to catch my sight was the spilling of people — on the road, sidewalks, crossings, parks, benches, trams, just about everywhere. Some of them unabashedly defied the coolness of the air in their skimpy clothes, while some held on to their coats for just a while longer. What I saw next was the Oder river just behind our apartment: for what had been flowing idly for the last few months, was today brimming with joy, entertaining tourist boats and kayaks on its gleeful waters.
The coming of spring is indeed ecstatic. Quaint cafés have extended seating arrangements outside, fencing them off with decorative little barriers and lights. The smells of Italian pizza, Turkish döner kebabs, Georgian chaczapuri, Indian paneer butter masala, and many other unfamiliar, yet delicious aromas waft together in happy harmony along busy streets. Queues at ice cream parlours are running long, and people wait patiently for their turn for the customary welcome of the season with bright ice cream colours. The joie de vivre is akin to the happiness that the first monsoon rain in India brings: childlike, all pervasive and contagious.
Like a snake sheds skin, the city has left its cold, grey cover behind and emerged anew, washed with sunshine. The sickly trees of branches have become animated with fresh buds and leaves peeking out, scenting the sun kissed air. The grass is a bright green, soft, velvet carpet, profusely dotted with tiny white daisies sticking their heads out in merriment. Hedges have shamelessly outgrown their perfectly pruned shapes, flowers of the most delightful colours are blooming at every corner. Sparrows are chirping their lungs out, as if to show their elation. And I — I am finally living a page out of some forgotten novel and resonating with the joy that spring heralds, here, in a small city in Poland.
If you’re lucky enough to have clear skies on a flight to Iceland, the descent to Keflavik Airport is where all the excitement begins. Suddenly, an enormous slab of ice comes floating on the sea, interspersed with myriad rivers cracking their way up the ice-land like veins in a human body.
But that’s not when the magic happens.
It happens with the sighting of the southern coast: pitch black land covered with soft white peaks— a giant blackforest cake of sorts. As I see more and more of it, I’m determined to feast on the view like a glutton at an Indian wedding.
What makes Iceland such a captivating country is the versatility of nature on display in such a small area of land. Today I’m talking about our journey along the southern coast of Iceland, some 180 km away from Reykjavík. If Day 1 was all about geysers, lava fields, tectonic activity and the spectacular northern lights, Day 2 is about volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls and beaches. And mind you, that’s not all Iceland has to offer.
We start our journey southward with a sighting of the volcanoes Katla and Hekla, the latter shaped like the belly of a pregnant woman. “In fact”, says our guide Joanna in the most nonchalant, matter-of-fact manner, “Hekla and Katla are women’s names and they should erupt any time in the next few years”. Now one would expect some shushing and that-which-must-not-be-named kinda euphemisms when natives refer to active volcanoes — but no sir, volcanic activity is a fact of life, and that’s that.
Joanna refers to both these volcanoes as “she”, which I find as intriguing as the similarity between volcanoes and women, especially the subglacial volcanoes of Iceland. Sometimes our emotions too escape in nothing less than an eruption, usually accompanied by a flood of tears.
This culmination is but another beginning, because after the cathartic ash settles, it forms the most fertile new ground for life to thrive. We can stand poised like a glacier, provide nurturing warmth like magma, and vent like a volcano — it is upon others to see the beauty of each. And to beware, of course.
Talking of volcanoes, it would be unfair not to mention the traditional lava bread of Iceland which is prepared using a special process: the pot of batter is buried deep into the ground near a hot spring. 24 hours later, it is retrieved from the bubbling water and the bread is ready to be eaten. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Right?
If there’s one thing the world should learn from the Icelandic people, it is their indomitable perseverance to preserve nature in spite of the inescapable natural threats they face. Wherever we went, there was a total lack of commercialisation, signages, banners or anything of that sort to interfere with the scenery. At the most one small, inconspicuous café stood at each sight to reenergise the weary traveler. The Icelandic horse is another example of their passion to keep natural resources free from external influences. It is the purest breed of horses in the world, strong, yet shorter than usual — oh, but you dare not call it a pony!
The striking beauty of nature is brought to life by the people’s rich folklore and firm belief in elves, which they call the “hidden people”. So whether it is elf colonies concealed between mountains, trolls or sea monsters, entertainment on our ride is aplenty, served to us à-la mode de Icelandic. As we drive away from Hekla, we clearly see
the profile of a king forming in the rugged mountains rising to our left. Three sharp spikes make the crown.
Our next stop is Seljalandsfoss, a pristine waterfall from which emerges the most beautiful little rivulet — the scenery as dreamy as a page out of a fairy tale. We’re visiting in winter, and unlike in summer we can’t walk behind the waterfall now, because the ground is completely covered with villi-like ice projections, making it extremely dangerous — if not impossible for a trip behind the aqueous veil.
Leaving the waterfall behind, Joanna teaches us all how to pronounce the infamous, tongue twisting, 2010 volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which put Iceland on the world map. While Eyjafjallajökull rises towards our left, on our right are the volcanic Westman Islands, with their own history of betrayal, murder and revenge involving Iceland’s first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. Ae-ya-fya-th-la-yo-ku-tl is basically three Icelandic words strung together: island, mountain and glacier, because it actually is all those three things.
At Mýrdalsjökull, the fourth largest glacier in Iceland and the cap of the active volcano Katla, the beauty of the monochromatic landscape sweeps us with awe as we walk through a juxtaposition of the two opposite elements of nature. There’s even some background music to mark the enormity of this moment: the glacier cracks, echoing through the valley like a large drum. We have now seen, smelt, heard, breathed and felt the Land of Fire and Ice.
After driving through a picturesque valley, we arrive at the sparkling black Reynisfjara beach. The shortest way to describe this beauty?
For the average person who can only dream of booking a flight to Mars, the Reynisfjara beach is a preview of what extra terrestrial lands would look like, but for the Bollywood lover it is where the SRK-Kajol starrer song “Gerua” was filmed. So, I play the number in my head, and run to the unearthly hexagonal basalt column caves for a few pictures with my husband. In the distance rise the three notorious trolls who were petrified by the sun while at sea. Technically, they are remains of erstwhile igneous rocks, but I’d prefer to believe the troll version any day.
It’s now time to wrap the journey up with a stop at Skógafoss waterfall where a viking hid his treasure and locked it off with sorcery. It is believed that the treasure can be seen when the curtain of water glitters in the sunshine. I don’t see it, but then the whole country is a treasure — of rare natural phenomena and mind-blowing scenery.
Boarding the bus back for Reykjavík, I sink in my warm seat. Tired feet stretched out, eyes fixated somewhere out the window, and mind lost in a casket of spellbinding sights — I’m sealing my treasure off with magic so that I can cherish it all forever, exactly as I saw it.